Ancient Athens and the Acropolis

Rising up out of the center of Athens, Greece is the Acropolis. It sits atop a rock formation that rises 490 ft above the sea with a semi-flat surface that covers an area of about 7.4 acres. Considering its size it’s a pretty small place to be recognized as the birthplace of Western democratic civilization.

This claim about the creation of Western democracy is not a hollow one. In all of history it was at this very place 2,600 years ago where people first assumed the responsibility for their own governance. This allowed those citizens that lived in and fought for the city to have a say in the decisions concerning Athens and set the spark that brought on a golden age for the Greeks. Admire what they built in stone at this place but more importantly celebrate what they created with their minds.

The word acropolis is from the Greek words meaning the highest point of a city. The term acropolis doesn’t refer to this single place in Athens as there are many other acropoleis in Greece, but the site in Athens is so significant that it is commonly known as just “The Acropolis”.

While the earliest artifacts relating to this site date to the Middle Neolithic era, there have been documented habitation as far back as the 6th millennium BC. It has been established that a Mycenaean megaron palace (the megaron was the great hall in ancient Greek palace complexes) stood upon this hill during the late Bronze Age. Nothing of this megaron survives except, probably, a single limestone column-base and pieces of several sandstone steps. The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel that contains several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic importance, the most significant being the Parthenon.

The Parthenon

It was Pericles (c. 495 – 429 BC) in the fifth century BC who managed the construction of most important structures including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike.

The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron goddess. Construction began in 447 BC during the golden age of the Athenian Empire. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the zenith of the Doric style. The Parthenon is the most enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy and Western civilization and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. To the Athenians the temple was a symbol of victory over the Persian invaders and a tribute to the gods .

The Porch of the Maidens

The Erechtheion is an ancient Greek temple on the north side which was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. One of its more noteworthy features is located on the south side, the famous “Porch of the Maidens”, with six draped female figures (caryatids) as supporting columns. The porch was built to conceal a giant beam needed to support the southwest corner of the building.

The Temple of Athena Nike

The Temple of Athena Nike is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena Nike. Built around 420 BC, the temple is the earliest fully Ionic temple on the Acropolis. It has a prominent position on a steep bastion at the south west corner of the Acropolis to the right of the entrance (the Propylaea). In contrast to the Acropolis proper, a walled sanctuary entered through the Propylaea, the Victory Sanctuary was open, entered from the Propylaea’s southwest wing and from a narrow stair on the north. The sheer walls of its bastion were protected on the north, west, and south by the Nike Parapet, named for its frieze of Nikai celebrating victory were sacrifices to their patron goddess, Athena Nike were made.

      Temple of Hephaestus

In addition to the Acropolis ancient Athens left behind a number of other significant archeological sites like the Temple of Zeus’ and the Temple of Hephaestus that deserve visiting.

The Acropolis Museum

View from 4th floor gallery Acropolis Museum

Sitting at the base of the Acropolis in Athens and just two blocks from the Acropolis Metro station is the Acropolis Museum. The Acropolis Museum, one of the ten most important museums in the world, was built to house every artifact found on the rock and on the surrounding slopes. Discoveries date from the Greek Bronze Age to Roman and Byzantine Greece. It was also built over the ruins of Roman and early Byzantine Athens with its foundation carefully designed and built in a way that protects and provides access to the archaeological sight.

The museums main entrance over the archaeology site

This ultra modern museum is dedicated to restoring and protecting the amazing buildings associated with ancient Athen’s Acropolis. Seriously damaged over centuries by looters, war and vandalism the recovery, preservation and restoration of the sites major buildings is a massive undertaking. Working from drawings, historic photographs and actual artifacts from the British Museum, the restoration is intended to specifically restore the Parthenon to its original condition. That will include the statue of Athena, the East and West building pediments, the metopes of the peristyle, and the continuous frieze of the cella and the temples exterior with its abundance of sculptures.

The collections of the museum are exhibited on three levels with a fourth middle level that houses the museum shop, the café and offices. On the first level of the museum there are artifacts from the slopes of the Acropolis with its long and rectangular hall whose floor is sloping to resemble the ascension to the Acropolis. At the top the visitor finds a large hall which houses additional findings that include artifacts and sculptures from the other Acropolis buildings such as the Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Propylaea and artifacts from Roman and early Christian Athens. The top floor features a movie on the Parthenon along with exhibits on the statuary restorations and an amazing gallery with its glass wall looking directly at the Acropolis.

The museum is normally open from 8 to 4 on weekdays and 8 to 8 Saturday and Sunday. General admission varies by season: 10€ from April through October and 5€ from November to April.

It is highly recommended that during peak season you arrive early to the Acropolis to avoid the ticket lines and crowds. If you are visiting be sure to wear good walking shoes as there is a nice up-hill walk and uneven ground at the top. Disabled access at the Acropolis is provided by a wheelchair stair climber lift and an elevator. In Summer it’s a good idea to put off a visit to the Acropolis Museum latter in the heat of the day.

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